Mr. Durham to Mr. Foster.

No. 148.]

Sir: I regret to have to report that the failure of this legation to press its request for an indemnity for the illegal arrest and imprisonment of Frederick Mevs seems to have made upon the Haitian authorities the impression that the matter is not so important as to demand immediate consideration.

The attitude of the minister of foreign relations is based upon the assumption that foreigners residing in Haiti must accommodate themselves to the customs of the country. I have uniformly declined to discuss this proposition, on the ground that it is not unusual for the Haitian authorities to arrest and imprison their own countrymen indefinitely without even the form of a trial, and that under the existing treaty with Haiti, laws guaranteeing the right of procès-verbal, of interrogation, and of regular trial, the customs of the country in this particular have no bearing on the case whatever.

Yesterday I received your two telegrams. In one you approve my action; transmit the Presidential instructions that the matter must be adjusted through this legation; instructing me to seek a peaceful settlement; suggest that a demand be made in writing, and say that it may be prudent for the Atlanta to be absent until diplomatic efforts shall have proved futile.

In the second you instruct me to communicate without any delay the Presidential instructions above noted, and to report by cable if no indemnity should be offered, adding that we can not use force in the present state of negotiations.

Before the receipt of these telegrams, I had written to the commander of the Atlanta a note asking him whether or not he would cooperate with me. I visited him, however, directly after I had made out your instructions and explained to him their nature.

To these telegrams I replied in a message expressing my opinion that the presence and the cooperation of the Atlanta are necessary, that no resort to force would be necessary.

Your answer asking, the nature of the cooperation I desire from the Atlanta, and adding that we should not threaten force without intent to exercise it if necessary.

I replied that with the presence of the commander at an interview with the minister for foreign affairs, I thought we might obtain an adjustment at once. I ventured to add my opinion that hesitation on our part would be sure to affect all our interests unfavorably.

I ought to explain that the prompt arrival of the Atlanta with your agent on board, instructed to investigate this case and to demand reparation should the facts warrant such a course, is universally regarded as a threat of force; and I regret that your instructions show me that I have blundered in sharing the general opinion; I confess that, when my investigation showed clearly that a gross outrage had been perpetrated on an American citizen and how unreasonable were the Haitian authorities, my belief was that the duty of the Atlanta in these waters was promptly to impress the lesson that the practice of civilized nations must be observed in this Republic so far as American residents are concerned. And I beg leave to say in defense of my course that it had been inspired, as my previous dispatches on this subject will show, not by any lack of due caution and consideration, but by my careful study of the country and sense of duty as I conceive it overcoming my natural [Page 372] sympathy for members of my own race struggling with that difficult experiment of self-government under democratic forms.

On the receipt of your instructions I sent to the minister for foreign affairs a note, copy of which I inclose, communicating the President’s instructions that the matter must be adjusted through this legation. We have arranged for a consultation this afternoon.

I have, etc.,

John S. Durham.
[Inclosure in No. 148.]

Mr. Durham to Mr. Lespinasse.

Sir: Referring to your note, No. 102, dated the 6th instant, in which you inform me that you would send an envoy to Washington to negotiate with the Government of the United States concerning the case of the illegal imprisonment of Mr. Mevs, I am directed by the President of the United States, in a telegram received to-day, to say to you that the matter must he adjusted through this legation, and that he expects from the sense of justice of the Haitian Government that the settlement he made.

Renewing, etc.,

John S. Durham.